During the electoral process there should be sufficient media space to allow for open questioning and debate between political leaders and candidates.
- According to a well-established principle of the Court’s case-law, there can be no democracy without pluralism. The Court considers one of the principal characteristics of democracy to be the possibility it offers for debate through dialogue, without recourse to violence, of issues raised by various tides of political opinion, even when they are troubling or disturbing. Democracy thrives on freedom of expression. It is for that reason that freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 10 is applicable, subject to paragraph 2, not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb (see, among many other authorities, Handyside v. the United Kingdom, 7 December 1976, § 49, Series A no. 24, and Jersild v. Denmark, 23 September 1994, § 37, Series A no. 298). The fact that their activities form part of a collective exercise of freedom of expression in itself entitles political parties to seek the protection of Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention. (see United Communist Party of Turkey and Others, cited above, §§ 42 and 43).
- [States should foster citizen participation in the electoral process by] ensuring freedom of political debate in the media and guaranteeing that electoral campaigns are open and accessible and that they allow genuine debate that is not only of interest to voters but also informative for their choices. This requires, in particular, transparency and pluralism of all media as well as equal access for all candidates and political parties to the public service media, which should be impartial. Any national regulations on election campaigns should strike a fair balance between freedom of expression and ensuring equal opportunities.
- The media should be free to report on election-related matters. They should also be exempted from liability for disseminating unlawful statements made directly by parties or candidates – whether in the context of live broadcasting or advertising – unless the statements have been ruled unlawful by a court or the statements constitute direct incitement to violence and the media outlet had an opportunity to prevent their dissemination.
- (p) While noting that article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities, to refrain from imposing restrictions which are not consistent with paragraph 3 of that article, including on: (i) Discussion of government policies and political debate; reporting on human rights, government activities and corruption in government; engaging in election campaigns, peaceful demonstrations or political activities, including for peace or democracy; and expression of opinion and dissent, religion or belief, including by persons belonging to minorities or vulnerable groups;
- With these broad principles in mind, the Special Rapporteur wishes to emphasize that in pre-election periods…(f) Programmes provide an effective opportunity for journalists, current affairs experts and/or the general public to put questions to party leaders and other candidates, and for the candidates to debate with each other.
- All publicly-owned media, including public service broadcasters, should be under the following obligations during an election period: To ensure that the electorate are informed about election matters, including the role of elections in a democracy, how to exercise one’s right to vote, the key electoral issues, and the policy positions of the various parties and candidates contesting the election. This should normally include reporting that involves questions being put to party leaders and candidates, as well as debates between candidates.